Naneh Gilaneh witnesses his dearest son Esmaeil going to war, while Meygol’s daughter wants to go to Tehran to find her husband and the family’s son in law. Gilaneh is forced to go along with her to the capital city, in a situation of air bombing attacks on Tehran. When they get to the address they had, they realize that the man has left and has emptied the house. Years have gone by. We now see Gilaneh who is living in a cottage on top of a hill in northern part of the country with her paralyzed son who came back from war years ago. Gilaneh is not feeling well, and even though she has become very old herself, but she is forced to take care of her young boy. With these conditions, the visits of her ex daughter in law who has married another man after Gilaneh’s son became paralyzed, the kind doctor who comes over occasionally to visit Gilaneh’s paralyzed son, and the travellers that sometimes stop by and buy things from the old woman’s little stand and leave are not at all a remedy. The news shows films of the US Military attack on Iraq.
Gilaneh is an anti-war film made by Rakhshan Bani Etemad and his long-time collaborator Mohsen Abdolvahab. The film, like other Bani Etemad films, is focused on a female character (a single mother) who is suffering in life. The main theme of the film is around the issue of suffering Iranian village women and how the Iran-Iraq war has impacted their lives destructively. The main problems with the film are that the narrative structure is too episodic and it has been divided into two separate parts.
Apparently, the second episode of the film had already been made as a short film and so, in order to turn it into a feature film, the first episode was made and added to it. This maneuver is counted as a wise decision; instead of expanding the second episode or picturing the situation as a continuation of the second episode (for instance the conflict in the scene when Gilaneh wanted to transfer her disabled son to a nursing house), the story is flashed back to fifteen years before. However, it is not specified why in the first episode Gilaneh’s first daughter was centred as the main character of the film beside Gilaneh herself, whilst, in the second episode, she is not present. This issue has weakened the structure between the two episodes, and consequently, the film has no consistency. In the current form of the film, what matches the two episodes of the film is Gilaneh’s personality and the other characters like Maygol and Ismaeil are just there to show Gilaneh’s suffering, and as such they are not characterized strongly. At the end of the film, when Ismaeil asks his friend, who is a doctor, to prepare his mother by persuading her to be taken to the nursing house, he adds that his mother is ‘struggling’ which shows his awareness of his mother’s situation, but it is ignored in the film, because no good recognition of Ismaeil’s character is provided.
The film-makers did not go further than pity for Gilaneh and they do not invite the audience to fathom the social situation of this woman and the causes of her suffering. Her relations with others, her doubts and disappointments, are not shown in the picture. The film-makers could not penetrate into the characters of the film, particularly Gilaneh, and show their inner tensions and agitations. They looked at the film characters from a distance which is a destructive consequence of documentarism in Iranian fiction films and dramas, a method of film-making which does not allow film-makers to enter into the inner world of characters.
Fatemeh Motamed Arya as Gilaneh, is acceptable. Although her acting is exterior it is not superficial or exaggerated. She has tried her best to portray Gilaneh’s character and situation by her way of walking, her bent back, the way she works, and her manner of talking and she has for the most part been successful. In Bani Etemad’s style of mise en scène we usually see Gilaneh from a distance. Only for some special moments in the film is the mimic of the actress (Motamed Arya) given any importance (like the cafe scene where all the customers are talking about the death of children in bombings when the camera is close to Gilaneh’s face).
The first part of the film, which tells the story of Gilaneh and her daughter’s trip to Tehran, has a fragmented structure. The story of a young man in the bus who has a radiation disorder resulting from bombings , the wedding scenes and the cafe with its customers who are imagining the war, Tehran and the missiles on Gilaneh’s daughter’s house, are all individual stories which have been put beside each other loosely.
Despite these weak points in the narrative structure, the visual aspects of Gilaneh cannot be ignored. The city under missiles and the escape of people shown from a window frame is very realistic and striking. The road scenes in the film are shot very nicely and Morteza Poursamadi, the cinematographer, did a fabulous job in framing the wooden village structures in the foreground and the people scattered in the field in the background. Bani Etemad is successful in showing Iranian society during the war and the problems of a historical era through the story of the life of an oppressed mother who says goodbye to her son going to the frontline of the war.